quick-simple-3Deck your home with the best and brightest — and most budget-friendly — specimen around, with shopping tips from consumer expert Jennifer Litwin, author of Furniture Hot Spots: The Best Furniture Stores and Websites Coast to Coast.

FABULOUS FAKES

Half of all Americans who buy Christmas trees are getting artificial ones, according to the National Christmas Tree Association.  Usually shipped almost fully assembled, the faux firs never need watering, nor do they drop needles or drip sap all over your living room rug.  Often, they’re even prehung with lights, sparing you any scary moments teetering atop a stepladder.

What’s more, the current crop of fakes, with full branches and rounded needle tips (sometimes hand-painted), do a good job of fooling the eye.  Of course, finding space to store the tree when the holidays are over can be challenging, but at least you don’t have to drag it to your sidewalk or drive to your local dump to dispose of it.

Five- to 7-foot fakes generally sell for $200 to $500, and last between 6 and 10 Christmases.  At the bargain end, Target (target.com) offers a prelit, 6-foot version for around $200.  It’s not as full or real-looking as more expensive trees, but is a good deal for the money.  If you’re up for a splurge, amazonfoliages.com sells an extremely real-looking, prelit, 9-foot artificial Austrian pine — with tons of branches and needles — for $962.

But before you plunk down your money, ask these questions:

  • Is the tree prelit? Some 90 percent of artificial trees are, and this saves you a lot of time.
  • Are there enough lightbulbs on the tree? A high-quality tree includes about 700 smaller lights or 300 larger lights.
  • What is the warranty on the tree? Obviously, the longer, the better.

GOING NATURAL

Even the most convincing fake tree can’t give you that only-in-the-forest pine smell.  And for traditionalists, only the real deal, which can cost between $15 and $150, evokes the ghosts of Christmases long past.

When you’re shopping, try to look at the trees under good light.  Brown needles and bugs are deal-breakers.  Ask when the tree was cut; the longer it sits around out of the ground, the sooner it dies.  Also find out its height and width — you don’t want the top of your tree scraping the ceiling.

While you can certainly pick up a tree in the 7-Eleven parking lot, Internet orders have been growing at more than 25 percent a year.  Internet purchasers avoid the hassle of wedging a 6- or 7-foot beast into their car.  Plus, they often have a bigger selection of trees to choose from.  (For instance, from Cupkie Christmas Village, you can choose between 7-foot white pines, balsam firs, Colorado blue spruces and more, for $79 to $91, including shipping.)

Even better: A mail-ordered tree is likely to be fresher than one you buy in a lot.  They’re shipped right after they’re cut, rather than sitting on a spot for days or weeks.  The downside is that you can’t touch or see the tree in person.  Also, because of shipping restrictions, you may be limited to trees that are no taller than seven feet.

Jennifer Litwin